The past five months have flown by and in that time we have traveled more, experienced more and gathered many more freckles, empty bottles of sun-cream and insect bites! Having nipped off to a mere nine islands since being moving to Thailand in August 2016, it is time to write about some of them. The wonderful thing about this blog is that our families have been part of these experiences too, and so this is not only a little memoir for them, but also a insight into what is to come- for anyone planning to travel to Thailand, and, of course, the other members of what is now a very large, very wonderful family, who will be visiting us soon.
Which island to choose? There are so many. The guidebooks tell you to go to the usual. Even the taxi man last week asked “Where you go? Phuket?” I replied “No- Trang” But there is a knack to saying this province in Thailand. I say CH/R/A/NG with a slight west-country twang. But the Thai’s say it much better, properly, so it rolls of the tongue. Trang isn’t actually an island. It’s the mainland. The town is really rustic and growing, with night markets and the best Som Tam (spicy papaya salad) I have ever eaten! There is also a big Dim Sum influence on the cuisine, and we had some for breakfast. You can fly from Bangkok for as little as £20, return. From Trang you have several less well-known, but equally as beautiful, islands at your fingertips. Get a minivan to the pier (there are two) and then a longtail boat.
Koh Muk or ‘Koh Mook’ is twenty minutes on the boat and one of our favorites. So much so, that we took Will’s Mum and my Dad there too. The best beach is on the South West side of the island, named ‘Farang Beach’. In February the water was clear, calm and you could go for miles and still be waist deep. In April the sand was scorching, the sea constantly swelled and the water was deep. The pancake lady was closed down too, so no banana pancakes for my Dad’s often rumbling tummy… Pauline, however, knows all about these. Sorry Dad!
The island itself demonstrates everything you would expect from island life. Thai traditions and lifestyles are transparent and the families who live on Koh Muk are happy. There are no roads, just little lanes and most have pot holes. I rode my push bike down some of them, veering off at the side trying to dodge the odd cockerel flapping it’s tail feathers across the lane. Cur-caw!
My bike also fell on top of me whilst I was trying to fuss a kitten at the side of the road, at the same time as trying to hold up my bike with one of my long, skinny arms. You can rent a bike for as little as £2 for the whole day and get around the entire island. Just don’t wear flip flops, as mine broke on route and I had to claw at the pedals with bare feet in order to get up the darn hill- and by Joe, Muk is a hilly beast at times.
The two pictures above are of a kitten that was rescued by a local barman. His name is ‘Lucky’ and we first met him in February (left). We saw him again in April and look how much he has grown! Kittens like Lucky are, as you can see, easy distractions. Even Will had a big soft spot for this handsome fella, who always seemed to be looking for trouble. There is a bit of a problem with stray cats and dogs in Thailand, particularly in Bangkok. I am pleased to say that the cats in Koh Muk, Ngai and Lanta were better cared for, and Koh Lanta even has an animal welfare centre, set up by a local lady.
Of course, you don’t have to get around Koh Muk by bike- you can simply hail down a taxi! They cost 50 baht per person, which is about £1.20 with today’s awful exchange rate. However, £1.20 can get you down the hill, or around the entire island if you wish. It is a flat rate and good fun, as the taxi is basically a motorbike with a cart attached. You sit on the cart bit and away you go! Look at my Dad and Tina go- pro pier riders! The pier in Koh Muk is a sight to behold in itself. It’s long and the water is a beautiful blue.
One of the best things to do in Koh Muk is a trip to the ‘Emerald Cave’. If you are even a tiny bit scared of the sea, it could be your worst nightmare. After plunging yourself into deep, dark-blue water, you are then invited to the soft shores of a serene little beach, surrounded by jasmine, greenery and shade; a retreat where pirates used to stash their treasure. The only problem is that in order to get there you have to swim through the cave; bats above you and goodness knows what below you, and it’s pitch black.
In April there were these pink jellyfish in the water. I like to dramatise most things, but this really was a drama. There were hundreds- and most were practically the size of my kitchen wok! My Gran’s air-mailed ‘Women’s Weekly’ arrived in a timely fashion too- one week before this excursion was due. The three words ‘KILLER BOX JELLYFISH’, coupled with images of locations sighted within the Andaman sea, got me thinking hard as I perched on the side of the rocking longtail, looking at the pink friends of Mr Blobby. I never found out why there were so many in the water. The only option was to go for it- and I am so glad I did.
The cave was pitch black for about two minutes and the waves crashing up against it made a echoing groan whilst inside. It was a little creepy, but we all just kept swimming, wondering when there would be light at the end of it all. Just a few more big strokes and the sunshine began to shine through. We had made it.
About half an hour from Koh Muk is a tiny island called Koh Ngai. So small, in fact, that you can rent a kayak and paddle around the whole thing, if you are silly enough to say “I’m in”. The island is practically made for tourists, and particularly couples. It’s romantic, tranquil and the sunrise is spectacular. Going here does not, however, make you a ‘seasoned traveler’. But it does give you rest, cocktails and icy cold Singha beer. We stayed at ‘Coco Cottage’ and it is by far the best resort on the island, with a emphasis on eco living and caring for the environment. We know it’s the best because…
This map shows you the entire island. An easy trip around, right?
This was half way around. You can’t see his face, but I can tell you that my husband was not happy. He was so cross in fact, that he tried to get out of the kayak and push me along in the water, his feet flapping behind in a desperate plea to try and shift the weight inside… at speed. Needless to say, I moved a mere few inches.
Other troubles along the way…. Dad fell out of the kayak, and we all got burnt. You can only imagine the aches and pains we had the next day too. After paddling for nearly four hours, we had arms like Popeye, but felt like withered little strips of asparagus.
As sailing experts of Koh Ngai, witnessing all resorts on route, we can safely say Coco Cottage is best. It also has a platform or a ‘raft’ that you can swim up to and with deckchairs on top. My jellyfish fears forced me to get on the yellow lilo and allow Will to do the honors. The water was deep out there, but we made it, and had fun jumping in off the side. I kindly lent the lilo to Will on the way back and swam. Hooray!
One stop North of Ngai is the famous island of Koh Lanta. From Ngai you can simply hop on a speedboat and it takes another half an hour or so. This island has roads- and we rode pretty much all of them after taking a wrong turn on our little motorbike we rented. Hiring a motorbike or moped is a great way to see the island, as it is fairly big. There are beaches dotted around everywhere, and it gets very hilly down South with treacherously steep inclines. The island itself has a reputation for being very ‘chilled’ and that it is. But we liked it that way.
Will’s scooter days put me at ease on the back of our little white motorbike, and the man we rented from took Will on a test drive to check that he was good enough. Of course, he passed with flying colours and took both Pauline and I out separate rides, with Pauline winning the title as ‘best passenger’.
The sunsets in Lanta are as stunning at the sunrises in Ngai. We saw both.
Our lives continue to be fortunate out here and we are having the most wonderful experiences, thankful that we took what we thought was a ‘risk’ by coming over the other side of the world. The islands, as you can see, are beautiful and each have their own merits. But as we travel more, we discover more and feel confident enough to leave our tatty, old guidebooks neatly at the side at our home in Bangkok. Sometimes the best experiences should be stumbled upon, dare I even say unplanned. Even if the whole world already knows about them, it’s more fun finding out for yourself…
See you on the islands soon!